Doncaster in the days before Armistice 1918Â
In just a few weeks '“ on the 11 November 2018 - the country will be uniting to commemorate theÂ centenary of Armistice Day, which marked the end of the First World War. Turn the clock back 100Â years to October 1918, however, and the mood on Doncaster's streets would have been veryÂ different. Â
While there might have been a belief that war was nearly over, Doncaster's wartime people still hadÂ many hardships to endure, as local historians and volunteers are discovering at Doncaster 1914-18, aÂ community project supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) toÂ commemorate the First World War. During their research on the First World War over the past year,Â they've uncovered extraordinary stories about Doncaster's people and places in the weeks leadingÂ up to Armistice in 1918 '“ and they're hoping that local people can help unearth even more of thisÂ hidden history, to build an everlasting digital memorial.
Every week during the autumn months of 1918, local newspapers were reporting on local lads killed,Â wounded, missing or taken prisoner abroad. Even days before Armistice, Doncaster's men lost theirÂ lives, including John Arthur Steel, Harry Birkett Shimelds, and Ernest Smith. On the home front,Â there was rationing of food and everyday goods, including coal and soap, and also restrictions on theÂ use of electricity and gas. An article - '˜Britain's Sacrifice for the Liberty' - in the Doncaster Chronicle,Â dated September 6 th 1918, illustrates how the war's outcome rested on a knife-edge, with everyoneÂ in the country called on to do their bit for the war effort:
'It was a moment of grave peril. The British Army was in danger of being driven into the sea.
The Germans had almost separated the British and French Armies. The French coalfieldsÂ were overrun'¦'
'The supreme Army Commanders saw the only way to save the situation'¦ 75,000 moreÂ Miners were called to the colours. Our winter coal reserves were sacrificed to save theÂ Armies and to bring the Americans to the front. That decision, grave as it was, has beenÂ splendidly justified... The Americans are pouring over. Victory is on the way. The saving ofÂ the Armies has meant a shortage of coal. Still more coal is required. Discomfort isÂ inevitable. Everyone must use less coal. The more coal saved, the greater our power toÂ defeat the enemy. Use Less Coal.'
Meanwhile, the threat of air raids continued to terrify local people, with blackouts in Doncaster'sÂ neighbourhoods and fines for anybody who failed to shade their lights. The devastating Spanish FluÂ was raging through the population, with schools closing and hospitals overwhelmed, and an
estimated Â¼ million British people dying of the virus. What's more, while there were labourÂ shortages, with local school-children and German prisoners-of-war drafted in to help with the localÂ potato harvest, there was already anxiety about jobs for the men returning home, and the working
classes were beginning to make a stand, demanding better rights and pay.
With typical Doncaster spirit, local people were determined to keep their chins up, eagerlyÂ supporting fundraising campaigns for the war effort with '˜knees-up' entertainment, and enjoyingÂ escapism in the local cinemas and theatres. As the days progressed, optimism was growing, buoyed
by newspapers reporting on '˜heroes' advancing towards German soil, increasing German surrenders,Â and 'Austria Throws in the Sponge!' in 1 November 1918's Chronicle. Finally, on 11 NovemberÂ 1918 Mayor Abner Carr announced the end of war from the steps of Doncaster Mansion House, toÂ crowds of cheering people.
This was not the end of the story, however, and the project team at Doncaster 1914-18 are callingÂ on local people to uncover more insights into life on Doncaster's home front during those finalÂ months of the First World War. Doncaster's people made a huge contribution to the war, but
because it happened outside of our '˜living history', we are sadly in danger of losing our connectionÂ to the people and events of the past, and forgetting that its legacy is still shaping our lives today.
ByÂ sharing their own family or neighbourhood stories and photographs on www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk, local people are not only helping to piece together Doncaster's wartime past, but alsoÂ helping to build an everlasting digital memorial to our First World War local heroes, free for
everyone to use and share.
To find out more, including news of events, exhibitions and roadshows taking place around theÂ borough of Doncaster, visit www.doncasterÂ 1914-18.org.uk.